The Twisted Logic of Mothers Who Abandon Mothering
by Barbara Sumner Burstyn
October 13, 2003
Today as I write, 19 people have died in Haifa at the hands of yet another suicide terrorist. This time the terrorist was a woman. The pride of her family, she was about to become a lawyer. But instead of grief at the loss of such a promising person, her family is ecstatic.
"We are receiving congratulations from people," said her brother. "Why should we cry? It is like her wedding today, the happiest day for her."
A year ago, our media were filled with images of Naima el-Abed, a Palestinian mother who sent her son to carry out a suicide terrorist attack. In all the images she is beaming.
"I agreed that he become a suicide bomber to encourage other mothers," she said. On the Hamas website she proudly detailed the support and encouragement she gave her son and described how, as a mother, his act was a source of great pride.
There is much I don't understand about the Middle East conflict or the seeds of religious intolerance that drive it. But I do know about mothering. In that area I am an expert. A year ago as I tried to understand her comments, I was filled with a mother's questions. And now I want to ask them.
I want to know, Naima el-Abed, if you remember when your son was born? Did you look at his perfection with a sense of wonder?
I remember that time, when even the exquisite design of my daughter's soft pale fingernail was enough to bring me to tears.
But along with that, something else blossomed, as if it were an integral part of the birth process. Fear. Fear that I might not be up to this responsibility and the enormity of the task of protecting her.
And, like all new parents, I knew at that moment the value of human life, the fragility and vulnerably that is concealed beneath new-born perfection. And I knew without a shadow of a doubt that if it came to it, I would lay down my life for this life I had created.
How do you go from that to supporting your child's suicide? I try to imagine the mental steps and I just can't do it. Instead, I wonder at the belief that has wormed its way into your Palestinian motherhood, a belief that seems to have destroyed the fierce and ancient desire to protect your child.
I understand Naima, that the world I come from is cloistered, secluded from the daily terrors of your war zone. From this perspective I cannot hope to comprehend the complexities of your mothering in the Middle East.
I know, from reading your interview, that you believe your son is now in the company of virgins and that he is happy. I want to believe that you believe this. But then I know how the will to live is the most powerful force in the universe and I think about the money you have been paid, for the life of your son, and I weep for how twisted your mothering has become.
One thing I do know about parenting, Naima, one thing we both know: children want to please their parents. Was your son forfeiting his life to enrich his family and to please you?
Do you ever wonder if, deep down inside himself, he nurtured a hope of life, perhaps buried beneath the hatred your society fanned in him, but still a hope, of even a sliver of the years granted to you?
So what is it, Naima, that drives the mothers of your country to glorify the destruction of their children and of the nation they oppose?
In my quest for understanding I have read many articles explaining the conflict in the Middle East and specifically the cult of terrorist suicide bombings.
Almost all rationalize it in terms of the desperation of the Palestinian people. This I understand. Desperation is universal. I see it etched on the faces of your people.
But this same condition also drove those who became the citizens of Israel to find a place of safety from the atrocities committed against them. It drove the grandmothers of my country to give up their sons in World War II.
But after that war when the flower of an entire generation did not come home, our grandmothers did not rejoice. They did not ululate at the knowledge that their boys had died and possibly killed another mother's son in the process. They wept with sadness, not joy at the decimation of their children.
A year ago, I watched Naima el-Abed carefully, looking for some sign of grief at the loss of her son. Instead I saw something far more chilling. I saw her pleasure. As if the death of this boy was a victory.
At the time, I wanted to reach out to her, across the expanse of our differences and say to her that while we were strangers, a Palestinian and a New Zealander, we had one thing in common. We were both mothers.
But now I understand that this word, this act as natural as breathing, is not a universal one.
In a world where even animals instinctively protect their young, I know I will never understand the mother who encourages her child to suicide, who views her son as a legitimate weapon of war.
As I write this, I am again in tears. For the children yes, but also for the mothers who send them out to die, for the mothers who have abandoned mothering.
Barbara Sumner Burstyn is a freelance writer who commutes between Montreal, Quebec and The Hawkes Bay in New Zealand. She writes a weekly column for the New Zealand Herald (www.nzherald.co.nz), and has contributed to a wide range of media. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her website to read more of her work: http://www.sumnerburstyn.com/.